The good ship Shakes & the City rolled into Manchester for the third regional heat earlier this week, taking up residence in Science & Industry for the afternoon while the sun blazed outside.
This North/Midlands heat was always set to be a laid-back affair, with only three teams – Manchester, Leeds and Leicester – scheduled to compete, making a drink that is inspired by a historical event of their home city.
First up were Leicester, with Jack Chalk of The Gadabout, Xander Driver of 33 Cank Street and The Primary’s Nick Brown representing. They chose the year 1919, when Leicester was officially made a city in recognition of its work producing clothing and boots for the army in the First World War, as their inspiration.
They consequently used Angostura 1919 as their base, infusing the rum with used coffee chaff to reflect the ‘make do and mend’ war mentality of the time. The rest of the ingredients were a celebration of what makes Leicester great in their eyes: a ‘Golden Mile cordial’ of mango, turmeric and ginger that reflected the multicultural heritage of the city, and a hopped banana liqueur to represent Leicester market, which is Europe’s biggest open market, where a whole variety of bananas and plantain can be bought.
The result was a fresh and clean drink, with clear mango notes, integrated coffee and rum, and a distinct bitter note from the hops.
Leeds team members Elysa McGuire of Below Stairs, Vice & Virtue’s Lottie Bernard and Lee Jones of Sandinista celebrated the city’s first ever carnival, which took place in 1967, making it the oldest and longest-running carnival in Europe.
They created a carbonated rum punch – Leeds being the home of carbonation after all – using spice and coconut oil-washed Duppy’s Share, an acid-adjusted pineapple and sorrel juice and a wild strawberry and meadowsweet cordial, with the meadowsweet being a nod to Newton Park, where carnival takes place and the plant is found to grow.
It was served prebatched in easy to hand out 33cl bottles, in recognition of the local people who set up stalls in their gardens to sell drinks and food during the event. The finished item was a refreshing drink, heavy on the rum, yet very moreish.
Finally, Science & Industry bartender Stevan Livanis cut a lonely figure representing the whole of Manchester after his two fellow teammates pulled out on the morning of the competition. He battled gamely on to make his drink that marked the Lancashire cotton famine of the 1860s, when the city supported Abraham Lincoln in his blockading of the Confederate states, in a stand against slavery. This decision resulted in many textile workers losing their jobs and struggling with starvation, as cotton wasn’t reaching the UK’s shores.
Livanis chose ingredients that were either created in, or their bottle design was perfected in, the 1800s. He drew on the influences of a Julep, Manhattan and Martini and mixed Antica Formula that he’d redistilled with mint, redistilled Old Forester and xanthum gum to create a refreshing minty Martini-like drink with silky mouthfeel and Manhattan-like punch.
Judges Roop Kahlon of the Urban Alchemist, consultant Julian de Feral and Laura Foster from Imbibe exited the room to discuss the entries.
‘Leicester’s drink was great, but I was a bit confused which event they were celebrating – was it the centenary, or the market or multiculturalism?’ questioned de Feral.
‘I didn’t know that Leeds hosted the first carnival in Europe!’ exclaimed Foster. ‘Their drink was brilliant, and their presentation was slick and fun.’
‘When I tasted the separate components of Manchester’s drink, I wasn’t particularly keen on them, but mixed together they really worked,’ thought Kahlon.
It was eventually decided that Leeds would take the spot in the final at Imbibe Live on 2 July, where they’ll be facing Dundee, Birmingham and a fourth team from the South West in the bid to be named best cocktail city in the country and win the grand prize of £1,000.